Rosyth and Edinburgh

We hadn’t done much on Friday or Saturday, apart from packing our cases and getting ready for a trip away. Yes! We are finally able to go away on holiday and, whilst it may not be as exciting as Chile and Easter Island, at least it would be a break and a change of scenery.

But why Edinburgh? I hear you ask. Well, we are due to be flying out to Kraków, Poland tomorrow. Poland!! We are actually going abroad, a rarity indeed in these strange times. Newcastle Airport no longer offers direct flights to Kraków, so Edinburgh was our nearest airport, and as it will be an early start tomorrow morning, we decided to travel up early, make a day of it, and stay overnight at a hotel near the airport. 🙂

After breakfasting and finishing our packing, we loaded up the car with our cases and bags, and loaded our cat, Cedric, into his transporter to be taken to the 5-star cat hotel for him to have his holidays too. He was not a happy pussy as he hates going in the car, and he protested loudly on the 15-minute ride to the cattery. We’d stayed there before, so we knew he would be well-looked-after.

Off we went and headed north at a good rate, driving through the pleasant rugged sunlit countryside of County Durham and Northumberland before we eventually saw the blue and white Saltire and the “Welcome to Scotland” sign. We decided then we would stop at nearby Jedburgh for a comfort break, and we pulled up at a coach stop we knew well. There were no coaches around (presumably most coach trips were stopped due to the dreaded COVID-19) so none of the shops were open; there was only a small branch of Subway open in the petrol station, so we went in and had a coffee each and a cookie, and used the toilets.

We continued on our way, but it took a little longer than usual to get to Edinburgh because part of the A68 was closed due to roadworks, and there was quite a detour in operation. Before going into Edinburgh itself, our plan was to go to Rosyth to see all the Fred Olsen ships, which we know and love, as they have all been laid up there since March due to the pandemic. As we crossed the Firth of Forth on the new bridge, we spotted the familiar red Fred Olsen logo on the white funnels, and we also saw the former Holland America ship Rotterdam which is soon to join the Fred Olsen fleet as the newly-refurbished Borealis.

After we’d crossed the bridge we drove around to park up and try to get a good vantage point from which to view the ships. Unfortunately we couldn’t get very close to them, but I was still able to identify the Boudicca, the Black Watch and the Braemar alongside each other:

Funnels of the Boudicca, Black Watch and Braemar in Rosyth

To the right of these was the Balmoral and the soon-to-be Borealis. While it was nice to see them, it was sad that they were all just moored up there instead of sailing the ocean blue with their complement of happy passengers.

Funnels of the Balmoral and the Rotterdam (soon to be the Borealis)

We stayed awhile looking at the ships and longing to be on them again, then we decided to find a nearby pub and go for a drink and something to eat, as it was now after one o’clock. A quick check on Google Maps told us there was a pub close by called the Cottars, so we made our way to it and went inside. However, it was fully booked for Sunday lunch so we just had a pint in the sunshine outside and enjoyed a bag of crisps between us. 🙂

We then continued on our way into Edinburgh itself, and made our way to the Travel Lodge at Ratho Station, opposite the Airport.

Our room was plain and simple, but clean and comfortable which is all we needed for one night. We dumped our cases then went across to the road to await the city centre bus, details and timings of which had been kindly provided by the lady on the Travel Lodge reception. A bus arrived shortly aferwards and it was about a 20 minute ride into the centre; we got out in the main thoroughfare of Princes Street.

Edinburgh looked quite busy and there was lots of traffic and lots of people; the only clue to a global pandemic was the fact that everyone was wearing masks in the shops. We walked along and window-shopped and people-watched, and after about a mile or so we arrived at The Conan Doyle pub, which we knew from previous visits to Edinburgh, and we recalled that it served good, wholesome Scottish grub, including the compulsory Haggis, Tatties and Neeps. 🙂

Inside, we sanitised our hands and completed the Track & Trace details (part of what is becoming the “new normal”) and were then shown to a pleasant table near the window and handed a couple of disposable menus. I selected the haggis with homemade whisky sauce, while Trevor went for the full Sunday roast, and we each ordered a pint of Tennants beer. 🙂

My meal was hot and delicious; I’ve always enjoyed haggis although some people might balk at its ingredient list. Afterwards we decided to go the whole hog and have a dessert each; we had a scrumptious clotted cream cheesecake to finish. Thus sated, we exited onto the Edinburgh streets once again, as the shops were closing and the crowds were thinning out.

We walked along by the park and came to the Edinburgh Art Gallery and Museum, outside which a lively three-part band of musicians had started playing lively tunes; a guitarist, bagpipe player and enthusiastic drummer. A thinned-out crowd had gathered (social distancing!!) and a smattering of applause sounded as the trio ended one tune and swung into another.

We then decided to get the bus back to the Travel Lodge, as we knew we had an early start in the morning so we just wanted to spend the evening relaxing and watching TV.

After consulting our piece of paper with the bus details, we made our way to a bus-stop that indicated that a number “25” bus would be along soon, as indeed it was. We got on the bus, dropped the exact fare into the box provided for the purpose, and took our seats on the upper deck. It was only when the bus started along an unfamiliar route we realised, despite it being the number “25”, that it was actually from the wrong bus company and not going our way at all! We hurriedly alighted at the next stop, then had about a mile to walk back to Princes Street to await the correct bus. 🙂

Back in the Travel Lodge we made ourselved comfortable with a bottle of cava we’d brought with us; there was no glassware or even plastic tumblers in the room so it was the first time I’d ever enjoyed cava out of a coffee mug. 🙂 Then we sat and watched TV, read a little, and got washed and into our PJs before settling down between the crisp clean sheets at about 10.30pm. Early for us, but we had to leave the hotel at 4.00am tomorrow to go to the airport. It was the first night we had spent outside our home in 2020.

The Delights of Dubai

Got up this morning feeling quite sad that this was our last day on board the good ship Constellation and we would be flying home tomorrow.  😦

We went and had our breakfasts in the Ocean View buffet, then wandered out on deck.  We had a couple of hours to spare because we weren’t due to dock in Dubai until 11.00am where we would remain in port until 11.00pm – a good 12 hours to explore this amazing city.

We spent some time packing stuff into the cases that we wouldn’t need again this cruise.  Then we had to go along to present our passports and cruise cards to the UAE immigration inspectors.  We then sat out in the sunshine and watched as the pilot boat came alongside the Constellation and the pilot climbed up the ladder to board our ship.  We got the same lift as him to the topmost deck.  🙂

As the Constellation slowly manoeuvred herself into port, we immediately spotted the distinctive red funnel of what is probably the world’s most famous ocean liner, the Queen Elizabeth 2.  She has been in retirement in Dubai since October 2008, and we wondered what condition she would be in.  Originally they were going to turn her into a floating hotel, but the project ran out of money and the QE2 has had to go through the indignity of just sitting there like a ghost ship, slowly rusting.

We were privileged enough to have had a couple of transatlantic voyages on this great liner, once in 1997 and once in 2000.  It was really quite poignant to see her just sitting there, although we were pleased to see that she didn’t look too bad, and indeed we spotted a number of men on the decks, seemingly working on the ship.  So maybe they have some plans for the good old QE2 after all – let’s hope so.

Although the Queen Elizabeth 2 is a proper ocean liner (rather than a cruise ship) and is 70,000 GRT in size, she looked quite small next to the modern ships, including our own 91,000 GRT Constellation.  The difference, however, is that her lines and clean, sleek and classic, rather than looking like an ugly floating apartment block.  We couldn’t take our eyes of this great old ship, and we noticed lots of other people taking photos of her as well, particularly as the distinctive Dubai skyline, including the Burj Khalifa, formed the unmistakable backdrop.

Meanwhile, the Constellation had berthed by now so we made our way to the Celebrity Theatre to await the call for our city tour.

We were allocated bus #13 and we disembarked the Constellation and made our way through the passenger terminal to the buses waiting outside.  I can’t remember the name of our guide, but he did have a very annoying way of speaking, punctuating every other word with yeah… yeah… yeah.  In the end we weren’t listening to what he was saying but rather how many times he kept saying “yeah”.  In any case, we were engrossed in looking out of the window at all the amazing buildings and other sights.

As we were leaving the dock area we passed by the QE2 and got some good photographs of her.  Then we made our way through the slow-moving Saturday morning traffic for our first destination, the famous Dubai Mall, which is the largest mall in the world by total area. It is part of the 20-billion-dollar Downtown complex, and includes 1,200 shops. It attracts over 54 million visitors each year.

Inside the mall, our guide showed us where we would be meeting after we’d had our free time, as he issued us with tickets to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.  We were next to a roped-off selection of luxury cars; we spotted a Lamborghini,  McLaren F1, Maserati, Ferrari and others.  Trevor said there would have been well over a million pounds worth of cars there.  After all, Dubai just reeks of money and luxury so even out on the roads every other car was a luxury one.

The guide showed us where to go to get the lifts to the top of the Burj Khalifa, and told us we had about an hour and a half.  We joined the inevitable zig-zagging queue and, when we got to the head of the queue, presented our tickets.  However, the time shown on the tickets for our visit was 23:00 hours which was obviously incorrect.  The lady then took our tickets away and said we’d have to be issued with new ones, so we had to stand back in the queue to let other people past us.  We hoped it wouldn’t take too long, as this waiting was eating into our time.

After about five minutes the lady returned with new tickets for us and we thankfully made our way to the high-speed lifts to go to the 125th floor.  The Burj Khalifa actually has 148 floors but the viewing area, shop, restaurants etc are on the 125th floor.  The massive lifts sped their way up, and the ascent made my ears pop.

At the top, we all spilled out of the lift then looked around in awe at the incredible views.  The tops of other sky-scraper buildings were way below us, and we could see for miles and miles as it was a clear day.  Cars and trucks, far below us, looked like lines of ants as they crawled along the highway.  It was fantastic – here we were at the top of the tallest building in the world.  🙂

After we’d seen all we wanted, and bought some postcards and other souvenirs in the shop, we made our way back down again and along to where the luxury cars were, to meet up with our guide and the rest of our party.  We then continued back through the mall and back onto the bus for the scenic coastal tour.

We passed many luxury apartment blocks and hotels as we made our way through this bustling, affluent city.  Eventually the bus pulled up along the coast, at the famous Jumeirah Beach, which is a popular place where ex-pats live.  We could see another famous Dubai landmark, the Burj Al Arab hotel, which is shaped like the sail of a boat and has a helicopter landing pad at the top.  We got out of the bus for a photo stop, and walked along the shoreline in the pleasant sunshine.

Continuing on our way, we also passed another famous luxury hotel, Atlantis, The Palm.  This was opened in 2008 at a cost of 500 million USD. It was set in lush, immaculate lawns and flower beds, and had a pristine sandy beach, which I believe was part of the artificial beaches created in The Palms at the turn of the millennium.

We arrived back at the Constellation around 5.00pm, after a very interesting tour indeed.  We made our way to the stern to the Sunset Bar, and I enjoyed a cold prosecco as we looked across at the QE2 as the sun hung low in the sky.  Then it was back to cabin 6098, to get showered and changed and ready for dinner, and put more of our stuff in the cases.

We enjoyed a good dinner in the San Marco restaurant, washed down with prosecco and finished off with a glass of Amaretto and some coffee.  Then we went back to the cabin to finish our packing, and also to get changed into the clothes we’d be travelling home in, as our cases had to be outside our doors by 10.00pm.

Afterwards, we went along to the Celebrity Theatre to see the final show, called “Funny Bones”.  It consisted of two guys, one British and one Japanese, who performed old-fashioned mime sketches that were really funny and original.  Certainly a show with a difference and, as I’ve already said, we have been extremely impressed with the entertainment on the Constellation this cruise.

Around 11.00pm the ship weighed anchor and set sail for Abu Dhabi once again.  We then finished off the evening by going to the Rendez-Vous lounge, where we enjoyed some cocktails as well as the peace and quiet, as there was no band on tonight.  We then reluctantly made our way back to cabin 6098 for our last night on board.

RMS Lusitania Remembered

During the night, the Queen Victoria had paused over the wreck of the RMS Lusitania to allow those people who wished to do so, and who had perhaps lost relatives in the tragedy, to throw floral tributes overboard. She then continued on her way into Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Ireland, where she docked around 7.00am.

We got up about 8 o’clock and went to the Lido buffet as usual, looking with interest out of the window. We had last been to Cobh three years before on the Balmoral, and the Queen Victoria was moored up in the same place. We could see the large mural painted along the dock wall in which the Titanic was commemorated 1912-2012 which had been created especially for our arrival on the Balmoral in April 2012.

Today, however, we would be remembering another great ship that met a tragic end, that of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the First World War, 100 years ago today.

After breakfast we disembarked the Queen Victoria and made our way into town, passing the well-known statue of Annie Moore on the way. Annie Moore was the first Irish emigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in New York on 1st January 1892, and she and her two brothers had set sail from this very port.

Cobh is a pretty little harbour town and one of Ireland’s main cruise ports; a century ago it was a regular stopping point for the grand ocean liners of the era, and the original White Star Line office building is still very much in existence, and is now a museum dedicated to the Titanic.

As we strolled along the streets we couldn’t decide what the weather was going to do today. There were quite a few clouds and here and there the odd spot of rain, but on the other hand the sun kept trying to break through. As long as it kept dry we would be quite happy.

Looking around, we could see preparations in place to close off the main road to any traffic. The town of Cobh was expecting 10,000 visitors here today, to remember RMS Lusitania and pay tribute to the 1196 lives lost. We could see a large stage being set up, and people putting out seats and erecting crowd-control barriers, all in preparation for the open-air service being held commencing at 1.00pm today.

Walking along the seafront, we arrived at the Commodore Hotel, where a slide-show of artefacts from the Lusitania was being shown in a room upstairs. We went up and watched the show, which was accompanied by some lovely, haunting Celtic music. I asked the lady what the music was called; apparently it’s called ‘Lumina’ by Irish musician Eoin Duignan. I made a note of it so I can buy it from Amazon once I get home.

When we came out of the hotel, we were pleased to see that the sun was out at last. 🙂

We continued on our way until we came to the memorial statue erected to remember the lives lost in the Lusitania disaster. A number of floral tributes had already been left; no doubt there’d be many more before the end of the day.

We stopped off for an ice-cream and bought a postcard to send to one of our friends; it was very appropriate as it showed the Queen Victoria moored up in Cobh; the very ship we are on today!

We enjoyed a walk up towards the magnificent St. Colman’s Cathedral, built on a hill and towering over all of Cobh. From here we had fantastic views of the Queen Victoria in the background, over the rooftops of the little colourful houses in their narrow streets. We decided we’d find a pub and enjoy a pint of Guinness (well, we are in Ireland after all!) while writing out the postcard. We went into a place called “Jack Doyle’s” where there was also free wi-fi. The Guinness was lovely; it’s funny how it always tastes much nicer in Ireland!

At about 12.00 noon we thought we’d better walk back down the hill and make our way to the park where the memorial service was going to be held, as we wanted to be sure of a good vantage point. The seating was available only for the VIPs and relatives of those who perished on the Lusitania; the rest of us would have to stand.

When we arrived, we went straight to the front, right up against the barrier; only the seats were in front of us so we had an unimpeded view of the stage. The orchestra was in place, practising some music before the main event. Officers from the Queen Victoria were out and about, all dressed very smartly in their “number one” uniforms with medals where appropriate; some of the other visitors had also dressed in period costume from 1915.

The sun was shining and we could smell freshly cut grass. A large TV screen, erected to the right of the stage, showed us what was happening elsewhere in Cobh, such as a guard of honour of sailors and marines, all waiting in their ranks for the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, to arrive. We were also expecting the chairman of Cunard, David Dingle, and also British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, US Ambassador Kevin O’Malley and German embassy Charge d’Affaires Wolfram von Heynitz and, of course, the Master of the Queen Victoria, Commodore Christopher Rynd – as you can see, a veritable congregation of dignitaries.

As the park filled up with visitors, everyone was looking around and waiting for the President to arrive to kick off the proceedings; in fact it was after 1.20pm before his car and entourage arrived. He is only a tiny little guy with a shock of white hair, and he took to the stage amidst a smattering of applause. Introduced by John Mullins, the Chairman of the Port of Cork, Mr Higgins began his speech.

He spoke very eloquently in both English and Gaelic of the horrors of war, and the tragedy of the Lusitania that sent shockwaves around the world; the outrage that a civilian vessel should be attacked with the loss of nearly 1200 lives; the ship only took a mere 18 minutes to sink, so there was barely time to launch the lifeboats; in fact, as the ship was listing so heavily to starboard, the lifeboats could only be launched on that side, as they wouldn’t have been able to be swung out on the port side.

Mr Higgins’ speech was then followed by an address by the Chairman of Cunard, who spoke of the role that Cunard ships played in the First World War; he listed the names of the 20 Cunard ships that were lost.

This was then followed by a hymn sung by a solo tenor; as he finished the last note of the song, the Queen Victoria behind us gave a long, loud blast of her foghorn to mark 2.10pm, the exact minute 100 years ago that the torpedo from U-boat U-20 struck the side of the Lusitania. A Royal Naval ship at anchor in the port responded, and we all took the cue for one minute’s silence in respect and remembrance of the dead.

After the minute’s silence, there was another blessing by the priest and the bishop, before a number of hymns including Abide with Me, Pie Jesu and Hail, Queen of Heaven.

Commodore Rynd then read from a survivor’s account which noted the speed at which this mighty ship sank; in fact another blast sounded from the Queen Victoria at 2.28pm to indicate how little time there was between the first hit and the ship’s sinking. It was all very poignant and really brought a lump to the throat.

The service concluded with the famous and beautiful Ode of Remembrance:

They shall not grow old
As we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.

All the dignitaries and the three Ambassadors then left the stage to go to the Lusitania monument to lay their respective wreaths.

All in all, the whole remembrance service was a dignified, emotional and fitting way to remember those lost in this tragedy one hundred years ago today.

By now it was about 3 o’clock so we decided to go back on board the Queen Victoria for a cup of tea and something light to eat. We intended to come ashore again after dinner, as an open air musical concert was going to be held in the town.

A special dinner was laid on for us in the Britannia Restaurant tonight. The specially-printed menu booklets had details of the Lusitania sinking, as well as many photographs of the inside and outside of this luxurious liner.

After dinner we changed out of our smart clothing (don’t forget you have to dress for dinner on board Cunard ships!) and disembarked the Queen Victoria once again to walk back into town. We made our way back to the open-air stage, where an all-female choir was in full voice. A lot of people were about, and the hot-dog, burger and ice-cream stalls were all doing a roaring trade.

We stayed for about an hour, but as it was now getting a little cold, we decided to go to the nearest pub for a… you’ve guessed it… pint of Guinness. But first we wanted to go to the Lusitania memorial and have a look at the wreaths.

When we got there, the memorial was lit up, and there were four large wreaths, each carrying ribbons in the colours of the flag from the country they represented. There were two with red, white and blue ribbons (for Britain and the USA) as well as the green, orange and white of Ireland and the black, red and yellow of Germany. Other floral tributes had also been added.

We ended up in a pub along the sea-front, which was nautical themed and was loud and lively. We enjoyed our Guinness and sat talking and reflecting on the day’s events, but it wasn’t over yet. We wanted to make sure we were back on board Queen Victoria for tonight’s Grande Finale, a candlelight procession of boats which would be sailing past the Queen Victoria starting at 9.30pm.

Back on board we wrapped up well, got our cameras and went down to the promenade deck to await the flotilla of boats. The procession was to signify the life boats returning to the port of Cobh 100 years ago. In the distance, in the gathering darkness, we could see the lights of dozens of small craft as they grew nearer.

What an amazing experience! The flotilla of boats, each carrying candles and other subdued lights, drew level with the Queen Victoria as the bells of Cobh Cathedral rang out across the harbour, competing with the hoots and whistles from the boats as they gave the QV a salute on their way past. We decided to go up to the top deck to get a different view and, as we got there, the Queen Victoria gave an almighty blast from her foghorn, nearly making me jump out of my skin, it was so loud and unexpected. 🙂

The decks were crowded with people, and despite a few of us complaining of the cold, no-one wanted to go inside. How often were we going to experience something like this? It was truly a stunning sight, seeing all these boats, all lit up, gliding past us. Among them was the Cobh lifeboat; it kept going so far up the river then turning and coming back again, with other little boats in its wake.

Eventually the flotilla thinned out, and we went back inside to the warmth of the Queen Victoria and made our way to the Golden Lion in time for tonight’s quiz, which took the form of the old TV game show “Blanketty Blank”. It was all good entertainment, but we didn’t win. We just enjoyed a couple of drinks before returning to stateroom 4119 for the night.

What an amazing and memorable day it had been. God rest RMS Lusitania – she will never be forgotten.

So Good They Named It Twice

Woke up at 5.00am this morning; we didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of getting back to sleep again because the Balmoral had taken the pilot on board on her approach into the Big Apple, and she was revving her engines with a vengeance.  This caused quite a lot of noise and vibration, so we just decided to get up and watch the approach from our cabin window rather than brave the early morning cold up on deck.  In any case, it’s our fifth visit to New York, so it’s not as if we hadn’t seen it all before.

We always laugh at the line “New York, New York, so good they named it twice” because we could say that that applies to Durham – we live in Durham City, County Durham, so it’s the same thing.  🙂

We watched the Balmoral go under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and sail past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on her way into Pier 88.   We then went up to breakfast early and went out on deck, where we could see the WW2 warship the Intrepid moored up.  There was a retired British Airways Concorde on the deck of the Intrepid; we noted that it was G-BOAD (Alpha-Delta).  We felt quite sad seeing Concorde sitting there; she should still be flying.  😦  We have had the privilege of crossing the Atlantic in three and a half hours; now it takes us seven hours.  Technology has taken a step backwards.

After breakfast we went along to the Neptune lounge as we were due to go on a full-day New York City and Titanic history tour after we’d been through USA immigration.  However, when we got there, we learnt that there should have been two tour buses leaving, but the guide on one of them had had an accident and was in hospital.  They therefore said they needed 47 people to go on the afternoon tour instead i.e. when the first bus-load returned, or else the whole thing would have to be cancelled.   Therefore Trevor and I volunteered to go on the later excursion, which would now give us the morning in New York to do our own thing.

When passengers on Deck 4 were called to disembark, we left the Balmoral and showed our passports, visas etc at port immigration, as well as having our photos and fingerprints taken.  Then the morning was ours.  🙂

It was bright and sunny, and warmer than we’d imagined.  We found ourselves on 48th Street and decided to head into the centre of Manhattan and have a look around the shops.  When we got to Times Square the place was fairly crowded; people hurrying here and there, the famous yellow taxis hooting their horns and the frenetic hustle and bustle you get in New York 24 hours a day.

I spotted Sephora, which is a massive cosmetics emporium you only find in the USA and Canada; they don’t have them in the UK more’s the pity.  For makeup fans it really is a treasure trove; just about every well-known brand of cosmetics, perfumes and toiletries under one roof.  As I am a Benefit cosmetics freak I was pleased to see a huge Benefit stand; much bigger than the one we normally see in Boots or Debenhams.  The stuff was cheaper than it is in the UK too.  So I bought some foundation, blusher, an eye-shadow palette and a mascara, saving 20 quid overall on what it would have cost me back home.  🙂

We had a good wander around; it’s surprising how many miles you end up walking when taking in the sights, sounds and smells of New York.  After about three and a half hours we decided to go back to the Balmoral for some lunch, as time was getting on and we needed to check in for the afternoon excursion at 1.50pm.

After lunch we were fairly tired as we’d been awake early, but we only had time for a half-hour power nap before leaving the ship once again to commence our tour.

At the dockside we gathered into a meeting room for a presentation by Paul Kurzman, who is the great-grandson of Isidor and Ida Straus, the famous Macy’s owners who perished on the Titanic.  Ida Straus was offered a place in a lifeboat, but refused to leave her husband, telling him, “We have been together many years.  Wherever you go, I’ll go too.”  Paul told his great-grandparents’ story and answered questions.  Apparently Isidor Straus’ body was found and identified, but they never found Ida’s body.

After the talk we got on the bus and were taken on the grand tour of New York.  The guide pointed out the new World Trade Centre being built on Ground Zero, as well as other famous sites such as the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Dakota Building, where John Lennon lived and outside which he was shot dead by Mark Chapman in 1980.

We also went to see a memorial to the victims of the Titanic disaster; the guide also pointed out what used to be the White Star Line building.  We then went along to the Chelsea Piers to see where the Titanic would have come in at Pier 59, had she successfully completed her maiden voyage.  Chelsea Piers is now a maritime museum as well as a sports centre, and there were many cyclists, roller bladers and joggers on the specially-allocated track outside.

We were taken next to Pier 54, where the Carpathia had docked on 18th April 1912 bringing with her the 705 survivors of the Titanic sinking.  Quite a lot of floral tributes had been left at the pier gates along with personal messages.

We continued our tour of the Big Apple; as the sun went down and dusk descended, the lights of New York started to twinkle and the theatres on Broadway erupted in a blaze of neon.  We then went to the South Street Seaport where there was a large shopping mall and fast food emporium.  Our guide said we had an hour to spend here if we wanted to get something to eat and/or use the restrooms.

We had a look around the different food outlets before deciding to go Mexican.  Trevor had beef tacos and I opted for a plate of nachos.  We washed our food down with a cold Budweiser each.  The nachos were quite disappointing actually; there was no meat at all, just a few kidney beans, and there were no jalapeño peppers, which I love and which form an integral part of nachos.  Also, there was no guacamole.  Nonetheless, the food filled a hole and we were fairly full when we got back on the bus for the return journey to the Balmoral.

It was about 9.15pm when we got back on board, so I went and got showered and changed and we started to pack up a few of our clothes and things, in readiness for putting our cases out later on, ready for disembarkation tomorrow morning.  😦

We then went along to the Neptune lounge for the late show.  This evening it was the Balmoral orchestra, giving their tribute to the “Big Band” era.  They are an excellent orchestra and their concert was superb.  It’s just a pity that the show lounge was only about a quarter full; most of the passengers were either making the most of their evening in New York or had gone to bed, anticipating an early start in the morning.

Afterwards we went back to cabin 4170 and finished our packing, only leaving out what we would need tomorrow morning.  Then off to bed for our last night on the Balmoral.  As the ship was moored up it was nice and quiet, and we both slept well.

Halifax – The Titanic Connection

We got up early this morning and looked out to a very grey and foggy Halifax. We were due to go on one of the excursions this morning; to the Titanic cemeteries. It might seem strange to come on holiday and spend half a day looking at grave stones, but there were 300+ victims of the Titanic disaster whose bodies, a lot of them unidentified, were brought to Halifax.

We visited three cemeteries in total; a Jewish one, a Catholic one and an inter-denominational one. They looked a bit like war graves with the identical headstones laid out in serried rows. Some of them had names on them, but a lot of them just had “Died 15th April 1912” followed by a number. This was the number they were allocated when they were pulled from the water. Some of them had been identified many years later and their names had then been added to their headstone. All of the graves had flowers put on them; there had been a memorial service in the cemeteries on 15th April 2012 and roses had been put on every single grave, showing how much the Titanic disaster continues to affect the people of Halifax a century later.

In the cases where the bodies were known and claimed by relatives, larger and more elaborate head stones were in evidence, with touching epitaphs. One of them was the grave of John Law Hume, who had been one of the heroic bandsmen. There was a gorgeous floral tribute with a violin set into it and his photograph at the base of the tribute. It had the words “He played on as the ship went down” and a note was left from a Yvonne Hume, obviously a descendant. It was really lovely.

After our visit to the cemeteries we returned to the Balmoral for lunch then went back ashore again; our purpose was to explore the Maritime Museum. This museum contained all sorts of nautical stuff; not only about the Titanic but lots of other ships as well, from both the merchant and the Royal Canadian Navy. There were full scale models of the ships as well as artefacts from them and it was all very interesting. We spent a good hour and a half in the museum, which was fairly crowded, mainly because of tour parties. We still managed to see everything we wanted to see, however, including part of the Titanic grand staircase and an intact Titanic deck chair, the only one in the world.

When we came out of the museum we went to find the post office to get some stamps to post our cards back to England. They had some special Titanic commemorative stamps which were massive, about 1” wide by 3” long. They took up a lot of space on the back of the postcards! We found a bar nearby and went in and ordered a beer each which we enjoyed while writing out the postcards. Then we posted them and decided to make our way back to the Balmoral.

We got back on board around 4.30pm. I’d already made up my mind that I was going to give dinner a miss tonight so we had a nap as we’d had a fairly busy day. At least it was smart-casual again so it didn’t involve getting my hair put up; I was able to get ready fairly quickly.

While Trevor went to the Ballindalloch restaurant I just went along to the Morning Light pub for a drink, before going up to the restaurant around 7.45pm. I was just in time to have some cheese and biscuits, as well as coffee and an after-dinner liqueur.

The entertainment in the Neptune Lounge later on was a variety show, featuring snippets from all the main cabaret acts that we’d seen this cruise. It was excellent as usual. Then it was up to the Lido lounge for the quiz and the late night cabaret, which was called “Boys’ Night Out” and starred all the male singers and dancers from the Balmoral show company. It was brilliant, as well as being really funny.

Then it was off to bed again after a fairly full day. We had one final day at sea to look forward to before our arrival in New York.

Nearer, My God, To Thee

01.45am, 15th April 2012
We adjourned, in silence, to the open decks aft of the Balmoral. Trevor and I found ourselves on Deck 7 near the pool, and we could see the White Star Line pennant flapping gently in the breeze. We positioned ourselves on the starboard side at the ship’s railings so we could look directly into the sea. Two and a half miles below us lay the wreck of the Titanic. The night was cold and dark and, like that endless night 100 years ago, the sky was dotted with a million stars. We could hear the Atlantic ocean washing against the sides of the Balmoral, the only other sound apart from muted voices as we gathered to remember the events from a century ago.

02.10am, 15th April 2012
I looked at my watch;  this time 100 years ago the lights had gone out for the final time on the Titanic; her end, and that of 1503 passengers and crew, was very near.

02.15am, 15th April 2012
At the stern of the ship three deck-hands stood, each holding a commemorative wreath. The voice of Rev. Huw Mosford came over the PA system as he blessed the wreaths and they were cast into the ocean. We saw one of them bobbing on the waves as it floated past us. Gentle organ music played in the background.

02.20am, 15th April 2012
Oh dear Lord, what a moment. The Balmoral gave a single long blast of her foghorn in salute; at this very moment, 100 years ago, the Titanic disappeared beneath the waves right in this very spot. All that was left were a few lifeboats, some of them only half full, along with the flotsam and jetsam of the ship and the mortal remains of people who had frozen to death in the black water. She had gone.

One hundred years later, here we were on the Balmoral, remembering and commemorating those lost souls and the 705 survivors whose lives would be forever changed. What a moment to be here, listening to the sounds of the sea, looking at the brilliant stars above us, thinking and imagining. The organ struck up and we all sang the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” which is the hymn of the Royal Navy and includes the words “Oh hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea”. My throat was so tight I could barely get the words out.

02.30am, 15th April 2012
The band started to play and Anthony Stuart Lloyd, the Welsh singer we had seen earlier in the voyage, concluded this incredible evening by singing “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. There wasn’t a dry eye on the ship; it really was such a poignant and emotional moment. All I can say is that the whole of this night has been so unforgettable; the whole Memorial Service, music, laying of the wreaths and even the flying of the White Star pennant was just so fitting and so dignified; they really did the victims and their descendants proud.

At around 3.00am we returned to the warmth of our cabin, where we went to bed, physically and emotionally drained. One thing is for certain, we will never again experience another cruise like this one.

A Night To Remember

As we had had to put our clocks back one hour and 27 minutes at 2.00am this morning, we woke up very early after a very rough night in which the Balmoral was tossed about the wild Atlantic like a cork. We looked out of our window at large waves, one or two of which, on occasion, crashed against the window. The wake of the ship foamed a pale green immediately below us, but apart from that all we could see was the “big grey widow maker” as we’d heard the Atlantic referred to in Senan Moloney’s talk yesterday.

This morning we went along to the Lido lounge to hear the talk given by Barbara Rusch called “Titanic: From Dreams to Nightmare to Myth”. It was none other than Barbara from our table in the restaurant! 🙂 She was actually a very good, very eloquent speaker and some of the passages she read out brought a lump to the throat. It was impossible to imagine how, for those 2,200 passengers and crew, the voyage of dreams, the voyage of a lifetime, could have turned so quickly and so unexpectedly from joy into utter misery and desolation.

One hundred years ago today, as the Titanic steamed across the Atlantic as the Balmoral is doing now, no-one on board could have had any idea as to how the night would end. That thought was with us quite a lot today as we went about our daily activities around the ship.

After Barbara’s talk we went along to the Neptune lounge to see Commodore Warwick’s presentation about his dive to the Titanic wreck in 2001. Can you imagine how awesome that would be: to actually go two and a half miles down to the sea bed to see the ghostly remains of the Titanic herself? I remember being totally engrossed by the pictures when reading Dr Robert Ballard’s book The Discovery of the Titanic, but to go down there and experience it for real must be something else.

Consequently, Ron Warwick’s presentation was excellent. He had brought with him a piece of rock that he’d brought up from the sea bed; what was interesting about this rock was that it was a reddish colour; it was actually coated in rust that has come from the hull of the Titanic. He also showed us an ordinary polystyrene coffee cup of the type you’d get out of a vending machine; then he showed us a tiny shrunken version of the same cup. Before commencing the dive down to the wreck in a special submersible (a type of bathyscaphe) they had put the cup, along with some other things, in an mesh onion bag attached to the bottom of the craft so that we could see what happened to articles at a pressure of about 2.5 tons per square inch; inevitably all the air was squashed out of the polystyrene and it ended up a hard, compressed plastic. The Commodore also had a White Star Line red pennant of the same kind that was attached to the mast of the Titanic.

Once the presentation was finished we went along to the Morning Light pub for a pre-luncheon drink and to listen to the noon announcement from the Captain on the bridge. After being assured that “all is well” we went along to have some lunch. 🙂

The lecture this afternoon came from Alan Hustak and was all about the Halifax, Nova Scotia connection to the Titanic. The mortal remains of many of Titanic’s passengers were not recovered until five to seven days after the disaster (some of the bodies didn’t come to the surface straight away) so, while a lot of them were named and given a burial in Halifax, many remained unidentified and unclaimed. It is only now, 100 years later, when we have so much more technology available to us such as DNA analysis, that some of those unidentified unfortunates now have a name, and some of the gravestones have been changed to reflect this. Of course, a lot of the bodies (I believe over 300) were in too bad a condition to identify, and these were given a burial at sea. They are gone but, as this Memorial Voyage will testify, not forgotten.

Following Alan’s presentation we went back to our cabin to start getting washed and changed and ready for dinner. The sea now appeared to be much calmer and the Balmoral was steadier when walking around. A quick look out of deck, however, let us see there was still a brisk sea breeze and we needed to wrap up well if spending any time outside.

On our way to the Ballindalloch restaurant we made a brief stop-off to the Neptune lounge, where they had laid out some commemorative wreaths for committal into the deep later on. The wreaths were absolutely beautiful and so very poignant.

We partook of an excellent dinner as ever; I had a sort of beef ragoût typical of the dish served to 3rd Class passengers on the Titanic; it was actually very good. We enjoyed the usual convivial company on table #61 and left the restaurant just before 8.30pm; in fact we were the last to leave. 🙂

In the Neptune lounge this evening, the Grupetto Ensemble musicians were playing us their repertoire called “Last Waltz on the Titanic”. There were two violin players, a cellist, a pianist and a clarinet player, and they were all dressed in formal clothing with tail jackets. This was their tribute to Wallace Hartley’s band on the Titanic. The band leader read us out the timeline of what happened 100 years ago, and played the same tunes. A lot of the tunes the Titanic bandsmen played were upbeat ones, so we heard “Alexander’s Rag Time Band”, as well as “Shine On Harvest Moon”. Our band leader then turned to the rest of his musicians and said “Gentlemen, it has been an honour to play with you” before they launched into “Nearer, My God to Thee”. It was a lovely, totally fitting tribute to those eight brave bandsmen who perished that fateful night a century ago. 😦

After the show we went along to the Lido lounge for the Titanic Trivia quiz. It was really hard, such as “how many light bulbs were needed on board?” Who on earth would know that?! We didn’t do very well, only scoring nine out of 20.

We stayed a short while afterwards to watch the female singer before going back to cabin 4170 to get changed into warmer clothing as we wanted to be up on deck for about 11.25pm. From this point on, I’m going to write this blog to show the timeline.

11.35pm, 14th April 2012
From our position on deck 11 of the Balmoral, next to the ship’s funnel, we heard Captain Bamberg announce that we would shortly be holding two minutes’ silence to remember the events that started exactly 100 years ago. The silence would commence at the sound of the ship’s whistle.

11.40pm, 14th April 2012
The Balmoral gave a single blast of her foghorn at the exact minute 100 years ago that the Titanic struck the iceberg. Trevor and I stood at the starboard side of the ship, the side that had connected with the iceberg, and we gazed out into the blackness of the night, thinking of the events a century ago that had so shaken the world. After the two minutes’ silence, the Captain thanked us and we wandered around the deck for a bit. We looked over towards the stern and the first thing we noticed was the White Star Line pennant, where it had been hoisted aloft from the rear mast. What a great, truly apt touch.

11.50pm, 14th April 2012
Back in our cabin, we switched on the television where the narrator was reading out the names of all 1503 passengers and crew who had perished that fateful night. 100 years ago it was all happening; how many of those poor people had no idea that they’d never see the next sunrise?

12.15am, 15th April 2012
We went along to the Neptune lounge which had been set out like the inside of a church; the floral wreaths were at the front, as were some candles waiting to be lighted as well as a pulpit set up. On a large screen the names of the lost souls continued to be displayed and read out, one by one.

01.00am, 15th April 2012
Commodore Ronald Warwick was doing our memorial service; in the Ballindalloch restaurant the Balmoral’s padre was conducting another service simultaneously. This was to cater for all 1309 passengers on board the Balmoral. I am not at all a religious person but the service was really good; we sung appropriate hymns like Abide with Me and O God, Our Help in Ages Past. The sermon and the prayers were directly aimed at the victims of the Titanic disaster as well as seafarers in general. The overall mood in the Neptune lounge was respectful and sombre. Three candles were lit, one each to represent love, hope and light. We finished by all of us reciting the Lord’s Prayer in one voice, before being escorted outside to the open decks at the stern of the Balmoral at 01.45am.

On our way out, we were each given insulated mugs containing hot mulled wine, a thoughtful gesture on the part of Fred Olsen, as it was cold out on deck.

Glitz and Glamour, 1912 Style

On waking up this morning to calm and sunny seas we found, once again, that they were serving free ‘champagne’ with breakfast, as tonight is another formal night. We managed to consume four glasses each (!), the last of which we took out onto the deck at the stern and enjoyed outside in the rare North Atlantic April sunshine. The temperature was actually quite mild and the wind had dropped enough for some people to venture into the Jacuzzi and pools.

At 9.45am we went along to the Neptune lounge to listen to Jack Eaton and Charles Haas talking about “Titanic Mythellany”, elaborating, in fact, on some of the dispelled myths we had touched upon in the Q and A session yesterday. As someone who has been interested in the Titanic for many years (since reading Robert Ballard’s book in 1987, in fact) I always get people coming up to me and saying, in a knowing sort of voice, things like “Did you know that the champagne bottle didn’t break when they launched the Titanic?” and other such rumours and alleged “facts”. So it is great when I can hear results of research which sorts out the wheat from the chaff. Just for the record, the champagne bottle did break. 🙂

We spent the rest of the morning pottering around the ship, spending a lot of time wandering around on deck and enjoying the fresh sea air. We tried to imagine how the passengers on the Titanic would have spent the long sea days 100 years ago, when there were no computers, iPhones, PowerPoint presentations and GPS location maps to keep them entertained, facilities we take for granted here on the Balmoral.

At 12.00 noon Captain Bamberg made his usual announcement from the Bridge, starting as always by saying “A very good afternoon, ladies and yentlemen”. Like many Scandinavians, the Captain finds it difficult to pronounce the letter “J” or the soft “G” sound the English way, as this sound does not exist in their language. So it was always “yentlemen”. As ever, all was well on the bridge. 🙂

The afternoon’s lecture in the Neptune lounge was called “The Mystery Ship” and was given by Senan Moloney. It was designed to try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the SS Californian, the ship who had allegedly seen the Titanic fire distress rockets yet failed to come to her rescue. This is a controversy that has raged on for 100 years; Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian was ostracised for the rest of his life, but was he really the “bad guy” that old and new literature about the Titanic makes him out to be? Senan’s talk showed that there even could have been another ship in the area at the time; also, the wreck of the Titanic was found about 13 nautical miles east of her final known position as given in her SOS call. So there were and are many inconsistencies to the story, and I couldn’t list them all here without resorting to pages of writing.

Soon afterwards it was time for me to go back to cabin 4170 to start to get ready for our second formal night. Once again I was getting my hair put up in a glamorous up-style as befitting the occasion. My dress for tonight was a black velvet, lace and ribbon Gothic-style dress, which was shorter at the front and cascaded into a full-length dress at the back. I wore it with black fishnet stockings, black shoe-boots with three decorative buckles, my long black velvet gloves and a black lace and sequin shawl with a long fringe. It wasn’t really a 1912-era outfit, but the overall effect was, nonetheless, very good. 🙂

As the Captain had been absent for his cocktail reception on 10th April, we were having another Captain’s reception tonight. Oh goody – more free champers on Fred. 😉

While in the queue to go into the Neptune lounge to meet the Captain, I looked around at all the passengers in their sartorial splendour. Formal evenings on cruises are always special events, but here on the Balmoral everyone had really pushed the boat out, so to speak. There were many authentic costumes and people had obviously gone to great effort: from the “3rd Class” gentlemen in their rough tweed trousers, cotton collarless shirts, braces and cloth caps to the “1st Class” ladies in their silks and satins, their pearl chokers and big ornate hats, to the gentlemen in their top hats, tails, silk cravats and white gloves, all around us everyone looked superb. Even those not dressed in 1912 costume had either bought or made the most gorgeous evening dresses and it was a sight to behold.

Captain Bamberg made his appearance and introduced his senior officers. As we have been sailing west we have had to put our clocks and watches back an hour each night (as is usual practice) but tonight, the Captain announced we would need to put the ship’s clock back by one hour and 27 minutes, in order that we will have the exact time on the clock, according to our degrees longitude, that the Titanic had when she struck the iceberg at precisely 23:40 hours on the evening of the 14th April 1912.

Once again we enjoyed some canapés and several glasses of free plonk, courtesy of Fred Olsen, before going into the restaurant for our special Titanic dinner. It was the same dishes served on the Titanic and I have reproduced the menu here. The passengers on the Titanic, even those travelling 3rd Class, must have been really well fed and the first class food was superb. I started with quail’s eggs in aspic and caviar – how posh can you get? Even today that menu would be impressive.

After leaving the table fit to burst we went along to the Neptune lounge where tonight the entertainment was a Welsh opera singer called Anthony Stuart Lloyd. We realised we had seen him before, in January 2010 on the Queen Mary 2. He has a rich, bass-baritone voice and is a giant of a man at around 6’ 6” with immense shoulders. He sang all sorts of stuff; some from the musicals, some from the opera such as the Toreador March from Carmen. He is an excellent singer and he told us he would be singing again at the memorial service tomorrow night.

We finished the evening, as usual, by going along to the Lido lounge where the magician we’d seen on Monday night, Mark Shortland, was doing another show. He was very entertaining and his tricks are that little bit different.

Then it was back to our cabin where we knew we were going to be in for a rough night; the wind had got up and the Balmoral was dancing a polka on the waves.

From the Balmoral, All is Well

We awoke around 8.00am and, after a good breakfast in the Palms Café, decided to go out on deck where the weather looked much brighter. We had a good wander along the deck, taking in the bracing sea air and watching the Balmoral as she glided through the deep waters of the north Atlantic. There was not so much of a swell today, so it was much easier to move around and all we could feel was the gentle, almost soporific, rocking of the vessel along with the muted vibration from her engines.

At 9.45am we went, as ever, along to the Neptune lounge to listen to the talk, with was all about the Canadian connection with the Titanic. In 1912, however, anyone bound for Canada (even if they were born there) were referred to as “British subjects” so, technically, there are no Canadians listed as being on board the Titanic. However, the speaker, Alan Hustak, said that there were actually 130 Canadians on board the doomed vessel, 48 of which survived.

He then showed a still from the 1997 James Cameron movie, “Titanic” which showed the fictitious characters Jack and Rose and asked everyone to forget all about that image and that movie, at which everyone applauded. This is because any Titanic aficionados (among which I’d like to include myself) absolutely hate the Di Caprio/Winslet film – why include a fictional sub-plot in a true story that is fascinating enough in itself? Also, there were many elements of Cameron’s movie that were historically inaccurate; but that’s enough about that. As our speaker said; forget this image, forget the movie. He was going to tell us the real love story on Titanic which related the short, but steamy affair between a 1st Class passenger, Quigg Baxter, who was a well-known hockey player from Montréal, Canada and a 3rd Class passenger who was a some-time night club singer (allegedly) called Bertha Villiers. To give us a laugh, he’d Photoshopped their images over the Di Caprio and Winslet faces in the photo. 🙂

We had a good walk around the deck of the Balmoral afterwards, and took lots of photos of her from various decks and angles, which can be seen in my gallery. On the lee side of the ship it was fairly mild and, indeed, some people were even braving the Deck 11 swimming pool. We decided to go into the Observatory and have a quiet drink with our birds’ eye view over the Atlantic.

At 12.00 noon exactly came Captain Bamberg’s navigational information from the bridge. We always enjoy listening to this information and it is interesting that they still say that the ship has “steamed” however many nautical miles since the previous day’s announcement. The captain told us the latitude and longitude, the temperature, the wind speed and how many nautical miles we’d travelled. He then ended his announcement, as he does every day, with “Ladies and gentlemen, have a very good afternoon and from the Bridge, all is well.” One of the unique little quirks we often find on each voyage we’ve done, like the captain on the Marco Polo during our Antarctic expedition in 2006, who always ended his midday speech with a little poem. 🙂

After the captain’s announcement the pianist in the Observatory, who had been quietly playing in the background, introduced Lauren Casey, a singer-songwriter. She sat down at the piano and started to “sing”, or should I say screech. What a dreadful, high-pitched voice. We had noticed that the glass in one of the windows of the observatory for’ard had been smashed into tiny smithereens, and we wouldn’t have been surprised if Ms. Casey’s tortuous high notes had done it. When she commenced singing the dreadful Celine Dion song My Fart Will Go On, we decided it was time to leave. Sorry for the play on words, but I hate this song almost as much as I hate the film it comes from.

We went into the Marquee Bar out of the way, and it was obvious that the other people present had the same opinion of the singer that I did, as we could still hear her wailing and ululating her way through her repertoire every time the door opened. There was a brief respite as she took her break for half an hour or so, before starting again. We decided to go somewhere out of earshot.

We went back to our cabin briefly before going up to the Lido lounge where a lady who impersonates Titanic survivor Mrs Margaret Brown was doing a talk called “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. It was only 1.30pm and she was not due on until 2.00pm but the place was already packed and we could only get a seat fairly near the back, at the left hand side. However, we got the usual supply of extremely inconsiderate and selfish people, arriving late and then grabbing chairs from outside, bringing them into the lounge and then plonking them down right in front of people who’d made the effort to be there in good time. It absolutely infuriates me and we come across this sort of behaviour time after time. It meant that, from where I was sitting, I had gone from an impeded view to now no view at all. Really annoying. I decided to leave as I couldn’t see anything and it just spoilt it for me.

However, we managed to get a good seat in the Neptune Lounge afterwards for the Question and Answer session with some of the speakers we had listened to on this voyage so far. The panel consisted of Philip Littlejohn, Susie Millar, Senan Moloney, Ron Warwick and Charles Haas. It was immensely interesting as the members of the audience were invited to take the microphone and put their questions to the panel. There was a wide range of questions from all nationalities and it really illustrated the panel’s knowledge of the people and the events of the Titanic as there was not a question remained unanswered. From my perspective, I was very pleased to hear the ridiculous myths and conspiracy theories that have sprung up in recent years about the Titanic firmly refuted and dispelled. A few of them: the rivets and steel used were inferior (untrue), an unusual phase of the moon affected the tides (untrue), it was really the Olympic and not the Titanic that sank (untrue). In each case the members of the panel were able to argue, convincingly why these stories were just so farcical.

We passed the afternoon pleasantly before getting changed for dinner and going along to the Ballindalloch restaurant, where we had a full house at table #61. As ever, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal in excellent company; the wine and the conversation flowed until, fully sated, we hot-footed it along to the Neptune lounge for the evening’s entertainment, a comedy pianist called Colin Henry.

The comedian was absolutely hilarious; at least the Brits thought so although I suspect some of our transatlantic friends may have had a little trouble with the Lancashire humour. 🙂 He was also a very talented pianist and his pièce de résistance was standing on his head, back to the piano, resting his legs on the top of the instrument then playing a note perfect tune upside down. Apparently he’s in the record books for this. He also played an excellent rendition of Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, a piece of music which I love and which is completely underrated.

We finished the evening off by going, as usual, to the Lido lounge for a singing quintet who were very pleasant, before having a nightcap and then off to bed. It didn’t take us long to fall asleep tonight, lulled by the Balmoral’s gentle rocking among the vast seascape of the Atlantic.

Atlantic Crossing

We woke up this morning, or rather I should say woke up again, after having done so several times in the night on a very rough Atlantic ocean. Last night, in the darkness of our cabin, we heard the continuous racket of creaking, groaning, rattling and banging as the Balmoral pitched and rolled in a good three metre ocean swell. Occasionally there would be an almighty crash as a particularly big wave hit our window, or the entire ship juddered as she plunged through the peaks and troughs. A bit of an uncomfortable night as we couldn’t stay still in our beds, but I suppose it makes it more authentic, considering what our voyage is commemorating. In addition, as I have previously mentioned, the Balmoral is a cruise ship and therefore not really built for transatlantic crossings; we have done this voyage before on proper ocean liners (the QE2 and the QM2) and the voyage is much more comfortable.

But it was without trepidation that we made our way to the Palms Café to enjoy our breakfast; thank goodness for our sea legs! 🙂 As is traditional of Fred Olsen ships when it is a formal evening, free champagne and Bucks Fizz was on offer – good old Fred! So I enjoyed smoked salmon, fresh fruits and a glass of bubbly for breakfast, not a bad start at all to the day.

After breakfast we made our way, once again, to the Neptune lounge to listen to another lecture, this time entitled “The Irish Aboard the Titanic” by a bloke called Senan Moloney. His lecture was based around eye witness accounts of third-class survivors of the disaster and gave an overview of the darker side of the story amid the tales of heroism we are used to hearing about the sinking of the Titanic. Were some of the passengers shot dead by the officers of White Star Line? Were some of the men forcibly prevented from getting into lifeboats in the water, despite some of the boats being half empty? There was quite a lot of food for thought in this lecture and it allowed the listener to hear it from another perspective, that of “what would you do?”

We heard the Captain’s noon announcement, giving us navigational as well as weather information. We were not surprised to hear that the wind was a Force 8 on the Beaufort scale; a strong gale. The waves were very high and you could see the spray in the air. Trevor and I did venture out on deck briefly, but despite the sun shining the wind made it feel quite cold, so we didn’t stay out long! Incidentally, the master of the Balmoral is Captain Robert Bamberg. “Bam berg” – bit of an irony there, don’t you think?

The Balmoral continued to pitch and roll in the ocean; we have often found that you get quite a lot of passive exercise in this situation, purely from having to brace your leg muscles hard in order just to stand upright. In the past we’ve disembarked a ship after crossing the Bay of Biscay in a Force 10 and, believe me, my legs ached for days afterwards, as if I’d had a really good gym workout.

We went for lunch about 1.00pm in the Palms Café again, and then came back to the cabin to read our books, have a nap etc. but half the time we were picking things up off the floor that had slid off the chest of drawers with the motion of the ship.

At 2.45pm we proceeded, once again, to the Neptune lounge for another Titanic themed lecture, this time by marine historian Peter Boyd-Smith who talked about the luxury on board the ocean liners of the time, including the Titanic. On this ship, for example, the 3rd Class passengers (White Star and Cunard never called them ‘steerage’) actually ate better food and had more comfortable accommodation than that which they were used to back home. Fares for the transatlantic crossing on the Titanic ranged from £8.00 to £870.00 per person in 1912 – you can put that in perspective if I tell you that it is possible to go from Southampton to New York on the cheapest cabin in the Queen Mary 2 for around £995.00 per person in 2012 – imagine how wealthy some of the passengers must have been on Titanic!

After Peter Boyd-Smith’s talk it was time to go back to our cabin and start getting ready, because tonight was formal night and would give us the chance to dress up in our glad-rags, Titanic themed if possible. It was also the Captain’s cocktail party at 5.30pm for first sitting dinner passengers so we had to be ready early and I had an appointment to have my hair put up at 5.00pm.

At 16:15 hours the Captain made the announcement that – regrettably – there was a medical emergency on board and he would have to turn the ship around and start heading east again, in order to meet with a rescue helicopter that would be coming from Britain. It was obviously serious if the patient was having to be taken off the Balmoral and winched up into a helicopter, but I hope it doesn’t mean that our arrival at the Titanic wreck site was going to be delayed as this is, after all, the whole point of this voyage – to be there in the exact spot 100 years to the hour later.

I put on my long lime and black dress and bolero jacket, along with long black velvet evening gloves, a Guipure lace and Swarovski crystal collar and went along to have my hair put up, before wearing my black hat with the feathers at the back and the net veil. As I was coming out of the hair salon lots of people commented on my costume and several stopped and asked if they could take my photo. Quite a few people had dressed in period costume and everyone looked great. I felt really elegant and quite like a celebrity as loads of people wanted to take my picture. Trevor had on his dinner suit and Black Watch tartan bow tie and cummerbund, but I suppose the men’s fashions in the last century haven’t changed as much as the women’s. Then again, maybe the women’s fashions aren’t so different either, as I’d only bought my dress from Roman Originals 18 months ago, but lots of people asked if I’d had it especially made.

We went along to the Neptune lounge and managed to get a seat near the front. A string quintet were playing on the stage and waiters and waitresses came round with their silver trays of champagne flutes and canapés. Just then, the Captain’s voice came over the tannoy announcing that, because they were waiting for the rescue helicopter, he couldn’t leave the bridge so he wouldn’t be able to greet the passengers. So we had the Captain’s cocktail party without the Captain. Not to worry though – we managed to consume four glasses of the champers each before it was time to go to dinner. 🙂

Dinner was a grand affair with everyone dressed up. Each night the dinner menu has featured a dish that they used to serve on the Titanic as well as a choice of other items. I had a seafood platter consisting of jumbo prawns, scallops, crab meat and smoked salmon. It was delicious and I finished off with the cheese board and a glass of amaretto.

In the Neptune lounge this evening the show featured a really good saxophonist called Sarah Chandler. She played a lot of the classic tunes but with a modern twist and we enjoyed her music. Then it was up to the Lido lounge afterwards for a Titanic quiz. We got 15 out of 21 – not bad, but not good either, as the winners scored 19 points.

Then it was a modern day phenomenon after wards; the ubiquitous karaoke. I got up and did a couple of numbers and, in fact, the general standard of singing was quite high for a change. It was about 1.00am before we went back to cabin 4170, but at least the clocks go back tonight, so we do get an extra hour in bed.